Thoughts on the Senate Race - Part the First

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For several weeks now, the dominant inside narrative on the Senate race was this: (1) Elijah Cummings had such strong poll numbers that he was definitely going to enter the race, (2) this would severely damage Donna Edwards’ position as the only African-American candidate in the race, and (3) Chris Van Hollen would be intimidated by the prospect of a one-on-one matchup with Elijah Cummings.

Needless to say, I didn’t write most of this. I did write about Cummings and his growing interest in the race, and I remain convinced he’s going to run. But I noticed something as the last two weeks unfolded: Elijah Cummings was dribbling out information a little at a time, testing the waters, looking to see what the reaction was. First, it became clear that Cummings was changing from a kingmaker, deciding between Edwards and Van Hollen, to a candidate. Second, the story in the National Journal that I linked to earlier in the week (“Kaboom?”), highlighting the close relationship between Cummings and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, was in hindsight a trial balloon to see what the reaction would be to (a) a Cummings candidacy, and (b) Warren’s support, to one degree or another, of that candidacy. Third was Cummings’ trip to Annapolis Monday night, to “take the temperature” of the General Assembly as to a Cummings run.

So here’s a question: is Cummings really dedicated to running? I still say yes, but the piecemeal nature of the way the information has been fed to the media is intriguing. Maybe this is just Cummings’ way of doing things, carefully and deliberately, but another interpretation is that he isn’t 100% committed just yet. I don’t pretend to have an answer, but it would be a fascinating question for someone from the Post or the Sun to ask him.

The part of the narrative I didn’t write about, because I simply didn’t believe it, was Chris Van Hollen being intimidated or daunted by a Cummings candidacy. Anyone who knows Chris to any degree at all knows this: that man is not afraid of anything or anyone. As a one term delegate in 1994, he knocked off an incumbent Democratic state senator in the primary. In 2002, against all good judgment, he ran against Mark Shriver, a Kennedy no less, in the Democratic primary for Congress. Outspent and outendorsed, he ran a brilliant grassroots campaign and won by 2,472 votes, a margin of less than 3%. In the general election, against national Republican headwinds, but aided by a very favorable redistricting map created earlier that same year, Van Hollen unseated 8-term incumbent Connie Morella, the only Republican (I believe) to lose a House race that year.

So if some folks thought Van Hollen would back down, I wasn’t among them. And I was right: while Cummings continues to prepare for an announcement of his candidacy as early as next week, Chris Van Hollen didn’t blink. He rolled out an enormously significant endorsement from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker that managed in one fell swoop to fire a blast at BOTH Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards, taking the fight to Edwards’ home county and letting Cummings know he wasn’t going to concede the substantial Maryland African-American vote to anyone.

There’s more fallout from the Baker endorsement, but that’s enough for now. I’ll write about the impact on the Edwards campaign later today. Let me know what you think. Happy Wednesday.

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